Cravings are so common that it would be easy to believe they a normal part of life, just like feeling hungry is. And yet they are actually quite different from real hunger, they are not a necessary evil and can be a serious hindrance to your everyday life.

Think about it. This obsession with food – planning what to get, how to get it, when to get it, whether you should or should not, all the endless internal debates. And then the guilt, and the cycle starts again. How much of your internal dialogue are cravings occupying? How much energy are they sapping in your life?

Imagine how much more could you achieve each day, and over the years, if you could be free of cravings, able to concentrate for sustained periods of time, without the thought of food even crossing your mind.

Well you could just be a few days away from this freedom if you started doing making a few simple changes today, the ones we recommend to those who attend our employee nutrition programmes.

Cravings are the sign of an imbalance and you can eliminate them with a diet that gives your body everything it needs.

What triggers food cravings?

The biggest cause of cravings is to do with blood sugar imbalances, and this seems to work on two levels. The first level is simply the result of experiencing a dip in blood sugars: your cells – especially your brain cells – are suddenly starved of fuel and you can almost hear them screaming: ‘give me some sugar! NOW!’ Now the dip doesn’t mean you need to be eating more sugar on a regular basis. Too much sugar or carbohydrate foods which release sugar very fast raise your blood sugars fast too, and it’s the dip that follows which causes the problem.

There is another level which glucose operates on to keep you stuck in the cycle of cravings: its addictive nature. Glucose has been shown to activate the brain’s opioid system and trigger addiction in a similar way to nicotine or cocaine.1

So number one suspect: sugar. There are other reasons as well, the first being that some foods – like chocolate – are involved in the release of endorphins, which give you a sense of relaxation. So if you’re feeling stressed, it’s no wonder you’ll seek out those foods. You can also crave foods that contain nutrients you are lacking. For example chocolate contains high levels of iron (which can be depleted during the menstrual cycle) and magnesium (the ‘relaxing mineral’, very much in demand in stressful times)

What can you do about cravings?

Once a craving is there, it’s often too late to do anything about it – it’s a powerful physiological effect which just seems to override any attempt by your rational brain at exercising willpower. It’s a common pattern: you give into the craving, you feel guilty and beat yourself up. And then you have to go and buy a bar of chocolate to make yourself feel better. So the key really is in preventing cravings before they happen, and the good news is, there are proven ways you can do this. I see it working for people all the time.

The answer is to provide your body and your brain with a steady supply of all the fuel and nutrients they need. Just the right dose of glucose being released at the right pace (from small amounts of dense carbohydrate foods, like brown rice), and generous measures of goodness in the food you eat. Think that every forkful is an opportunity to top up your levels of valuable minerals, vitamins, fats, proteins and natural plant compounds.

Actually, when you start to introduce a nutritious diet, you’ll notice that cravings are one of the first things to fade away. This will be a very good sign that you’re on the right track.

Be prepared however that when you start to reduce sugar in your diet, your cravings might actually feel worse for a few days – it’s worth getting through this, as life will be so much easier on the other side.

f you remember three things about preventing cravings in the early days, it’s these:

 

  1. Always have tasty, protein rich snacks close at hand (a handful of almonds with a couple of squares of dark chocolate might just beat off the lure of the chocolate bar from the snack machine)
  2. Focus on building a good protein based breakfast into your daily routine – this will reduce cravings and hunger even late in the afternoon
  3. Remember that cravings have a physiological reason and you need to address them on that level – don’t have unrealistic and self defeating expectations that willpower alone is enough in the long term.

1 http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1038/oby.2002.66/full

 

Want to read more?

Habit 22/31: Dealing Effectively with Cravings

Get your copy of my new book here:

‘Eat Your Way to the Top: 31 Habits for Optimising Your Potential at Work and Beyond’

Author: Angela Steel